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Red carpet rolled out – Film Festival vendors count on last-minute reservations

By   /   Sunday, January 25th, 2009  /   Comments Off on Red carpet rolled out – Film Festival vendors count on last-minute reservations

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The stars are out for Santa Barbara’s film festival, but local companies are bracing for what a special appearance by the recession could spell for business.

As the first major tourist attraction of the year on the South Coast, the 24th annual Santa Barbara International Film Festival began Jan. 22 and continues through Feb. 1. Many of the film screenings and award ceremonies during the 10-day festival feature notable actors and directors, such as Clint Eastwood and Kate Winslet.

Last year’s approximately 70,000 film festival attendees also helped boost area business at local hotels, shops and limousine services. Venues such as the Canary Hotel in Santa Barbara, now in its second year of a partnership with the film festival, said the pairing has been key to growth.

But there’s a trend toward a lot more last-minute bookings, a sign that even well-heeled travelers are hedging their bets before spending on a weekend fling. Limousine companies say business is down sharply as consumers examine what they can do without. For vendors who find the right niche, though, there can be substantial profits from both locals and tourists.

“Everything is very last minute,” Canary Hotel General Manager Laura McIver said. “It picked up a great deal in the last week. But what I’m hearing from my team is that we were getting a great deal more [advance reservations] last year.”

McIver said the Canary Hotel’s partnership includes special offers to attendees, as well rooms for festival staff and talent. The hotel also opens up reception space for festival organizers.

Hotel Santa Barbara has been the hub of the film festival for more than a decade, and its general manager, Tamara Erickson, agreed that there are fewer advance bookings. The downtown hotel is counting on big dividends from its close relationship with the festival, thanks in part to its custom event packages.

“We may see more than the average share of business,” Erickson said.

Two of Hotel Santa Barbara’s meeting rooms are already booked by press and hospitality, and the hotel’s lobby gets extra traffic from being home to the film festival’s welcome desk, where schedules and screening updates are posted.

“From year to year, people have learned to come here to check on information,” Erickson said.

Hotel Santa Barbara’s Web site is promoting package deals ranging in price from about $284 to $324 per night, including a four-pack “Mini Pak” of tickets to films.

The slowdown in spending appears to affect limousine services more severely than hotels. Companies normally hired to transport stars and filmgoers to and from events are seeing reservations fall as much as 50 percent, especially for smaller vehicles that seat eight or fewer.

A representative from Stardust Cruises Limousine Services in Santa Barbara said he is not seeing the same film festival requests for his vehicles as people cut back on expenses they deem unnecessary.
Catering services and local restaurants are hoping people still want to dine out as they prepare to do business the same way as last year.

Kathy Ackley, manager at the Fess Parker DoubleTree resort, said the Film Festival Press Breakfast that the hotel puts on every year is still a go, which is keeping its catering staff busy. The Jan. 31 event draws about 100 people, including appearances from some of the celebrities awarded at the film festival.

Mike Briggs, owner and manager of the Cold Stone Creamery locations in downtown Santa Barbara and Goleta, says he’s expecting a bump in business in the weeks of the film festival.

“It can get out of hand,” he said.

Briggs’ Cold Stone locations have been partnering with film festival organizers for seven years, but in the last few years the film festival’s executive director, Roger Durling, has inspired special flavors to coincide with the event.

“When it started, it was a thanks to Roger and a thanks for the good work,” Briggs said. “He came up with ideas to spice things up.”

His stores donate Cold Stone ice cream for the volunteers’ ice cream social, which attracts about 500 festival volunteers and staff members.

Cold Stone Creamery is also one of a number of local shops, restaurants and bars that is offering a 10 percent discount to festival patrons. Anyone interested can get the coupons in a guide published by the film festival, which is available at Hotel Santa Barbara, the Santa Barbara Downtown Organization, and the Santa Barbara Conference and Visitor’s Bureau.

Briggs and Durling have teamed up in recent years to create special flavors that correspond with the festival, sometimes specifically for the event. This year, five existing Cold Stone ice cream flavors are renamed in honor of the five award recipients.

Kate Winslet gets “Revolutionary Rocky Road;” Clint Eastwood has “Go Ahead, Make Mine Chocolate;” Mickey Rourke has “The Whip Cream Wrestler;” “Sticky Cherry Barcelona” is for Penelope Cruz; and “The English Toffee Patient” is in honor of Kristin Scott Thomas.

But aside from all of the pressures of a challenging economy, there’s still hope that after this year’s festivities, businesses can find a happy ending.

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